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MM.LaFleurI covered women’s workwear brand MM.LaFleur earlier this year, and recently, MM.LaFleur sent me the best-selling dress in the company’s history to try.
As of April, the Etsuko dress alone had earned over $ 3 million since its creation in 2014. It’s been produced in 21 colors, sold out, and been restocked over 20 times. The dress in black has made the brand over $ 1 million alone.
Upon looking at 2D images online, you might politely wonder why this dress, of all the beautifully constructed dresses on the site, has been so loved by MM.LaFleur customers — an online shopping group that might be harder to please than most online shoppers, since many interact with the brand for the first time only when they receive a box of clothes to try on in person at home. They only keep and pay for what they like, while the rest gets sent back free of charge. The sale, though being conducted online, still relies on fit and quality. So what about this dress made so many women decide that it was one thing they simply could not send back?
What makes a best-seller at a company like MM. LaFleur is a dress that is perfect for the office, comfortable to wear, easy to manage, and falls into the select group of clothes that look wonderful on a diverse range of bodies. The Etsuko, heeding this formula, is all of them.
Miyako Nakamura, MM.LaFleur’s Creative Director, explained in so many words how this success came to pass: “When we designed this dress, we took into account all the things that our customers asked for: machine-washable fabric, long sleeves, wrinkle resistance, pockets, and lots of stretch and comfort. It also comes with a thin leather belt, so you don’t have to worry too much about styling this dress. You just put it on and go.”
While perhaps a surprising all-time best-seller when viewed from a lens that compares pieces based on how intriguing their style or cut is, it is the reliable, versatile, and flattering MVP that has been making quiet headway. The brand itself is built upon this contrarian, instinctual understanding of women: they would prefer timeless staples made from comfortable and work- and life-appropriate materials much more than trendy garments. They want clothes made for the 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. lives they lead, rather than the lives the fashion industry thinks they lead. And that means machine washable, wrinkle resistant, pockets, comfort, and a silhouette that is flattering without being attention-grabbing or restrictive.
When I got my Etsuko dress, I was moving apartments and headed back home for a week-long vacation. A perfect time to test out some of those claims. My Etsuko sat cemented somewhere in the middle of my suitcase folded for about a week. When I finally took it out, I noticed a few wrinkles along where the belt had been resting against it, but none anywhere else. When I put it on to head into the office the next morning, no one would have been able to tell where I had just pulled it out from.
Trains were running at odd times, so I found myself jogging the five blocks to the station. The MM.LaFleur team says that the dress can “pull off a crow pose no problem” and though I didn’t wear it for yoga, I can say that I had less than no problem running through the city in it. Even the belt is seated high enough not to be a problem. The shape is year-round appropriate, so it’s also worth mentioning that the material didn’t feel repressively hot even when jogging in 80 degrees, but didn’t leave me shivering in the office either. I haven’t had the chance to wear it in the winter, but I’d assume with some tights the same could be said.
The pockets are shallow; I couldn’t fit my iPhone 7 Plus in them, but for me, this was a non-issue. Deeper pockets would have perhaps compromised my favorite part of the dress. No matter the brand, I always hang some of my critical analysis for the midsection. My favorite dresses seem to have a masterful way of leaving just enough extra room here to bend, sit, and perhaps do yoga without changing anything else about the dress. In this way, the silhouette you like isn’t compromised — it’s still a well-fitting dress that looks flat and sleek — but it never looks or feels too tight (or too big) when I’m sitting or moving around.
If you enjoy a little extra room in the midsection or want a dress that’s smart enough to be intuitively forgiving, this is a strong point that’s easy to miss with online pictures and seems to be a hallmark trait of the well-made garment.
Another giant boon is the fact that the dress is machine washable. The extra-care garments in my wardrobe won’t ever be the ones I turn to on a Monday morning habitually because the commitment of dry cleaning them is too great. Something you can chuck into the washer on the weekend or because one of the kids spit up on you is part of making your life easier, better, and freeing up more time for you to perform in the way you want while also enjoying your life.
True to their brand, it isn’t the flashiest design that customers have loved, but the one that perhaps showcases the brand’s bedrock values best. Functionality, understated elegance, and a timeless silhouette. Founder & CEO Sarah LaFleur said it best: “This is one of those dresses you can wear everywhere, and always know that you’ll look appropriate. We had one customer wear it to her company’s IPO, another wore it to an event at the White House, and another wore it to officiate a wedding! It’s such a versatile style, and it’s especially great for travel.”
I think of this dress, and MM. LaFleur itself, as that special element that is so subtle it leaves a subconscious impression rather than an overt one. If you give a presentation in this dress, attendees will walk in and perceive you as an elegant, competent woman without crediting that impression to your clothes. In my opinion, this is the same effect as a nice suit, in which men often benefit from this assumption of competence and suavity. Women often describe feeling like they must work to prove credibility, and though a dress won’t eliminate that reality, the MM.LaFleur line does a great job of creating an assumption of competence. You can give a presentation in the Etsuko and safely assume that their attention will be on what you have to say the entire time, as it should be, while also knowing that it gives an unspoken edge. In spite of being discrete — or, rather, because of it — your workwear will help create an aura of qualification.
All in all, I totally understand why so many women found this dress so hard to send back. I know I’ll be sad to see it go. It fits well, is designed intelligently by hardworking women who understand what other hardworking women want and need, and it’s as comfortable as anything else I own, T-shirts included. Just like MM. LaFleur’s belief that their clothes are best experienced in person thanks to a fastidious attention to fit and material, it was only when I put on the Etsuko and walked around in it that I understood the oft-overlooked elements of workwear that turn one dress into a $ 3 million phenomenon — and not another.